There is a great song near the end of the musical, “Wicked” that sings:
"I've heard it said
that people come into our lives for a reason
bringing something we must learn
and we are led
to those who help us most, to grow
if we let them
and we help them in return.
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
but I know I'm who I am today
because I knew you...
Like a comet pulled from orbit
as it passes the sun
like a stream that meets a boulder
halfway through the wood
who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good"
The more I work with those who work in hospice, the more I find these words to be true. The song's words and phrases companion me well on many days. And sometimes the whole feels true.
Hallway through the woods.
Many of us find ourselves halfway through Tender days. Holy days. Full and seemingly empty days. Hallway through days.
As Linda and I are raising our two pretty amazing boys – one in middle school and the other high school, I’m daily aware of how important it seems to them TO KNOW things. Details. Answers. Truths. Definitive results. All these seem to be part of their worlds. All these seem to be a way for them to navigate their way through their lives. And most days when I am engaged in this work I am doing, KNOWING seems to matter less and less. It’s not so much a part of what matters for me.
In so many ways, we are all halfway through the woods. All of us. Those in hospice and those in middle school. This is not meant to be morbid or fatalistic in anyway. Instead it is one lens through which I am looking these days.
This song opens with the truth about teachers/ companions/guides/soul-mates coming at the most best times. Folks who have either lived something similar or folks who are loving us enough to share the journey – if just for a bit.
I’ve surely experienced those sharing-journeys folks, and am experiencing them most everyday still. Grace abounds in those moments, when hallway through the woods invites me to stop and pay attention. Stop and take a good, long breath and stretch a bit. Halfway through the woods moments welcome us to focus on what brings joy and love and life. And then start again…
Every now and then - when angels appear and grace abounds - we are continually graced by love. Every now and then - when we are blessed - we are re-gifted with the love that has been long holding us. Every now and then...
Yesterday I drove down to see my friend Mary Jean "Joan" in Macon. Her son, Steven was on Bradley's baseball team and they were scheduled to play the Mercer Bears. I got to the game after it had begun and my longtime (you'll notice, I'm not saying "old" here) friend came and found me. I was standing at the top of the bleacher stairs and she found me.
We figured out that it had been 22 or so years since we had last seen one another. So many years before we'd sat next to one another at Illinois State learning to be Music Therapists. She was also much smarter, and so kind and very, very funny. Most of my memories were of goofy things and lots of laughing. After graduation, we'd gone our own ways ~ she's married kind, Rich and they'd raised their family in the Chicago area. I'd eventually come to Atlanta for seminary, met kind, Linda and the two of us had likewise been raising our family.
Time had passed.
But every now and then when the angels appear...
Steve was not pitching the game yesterday. [He's resting his shoulder, and I look forward to hearing the good word from his next start with the Braves next week]. That meant that Joan and I could catch up (honestly, I can't remember how or why "Joan" became her name for me, but it stuck...). And we had a lot of catching up to do.
We'd both been raising families (theirs a daughter and son, ours two boys). So we talked and tried to shared highlights and struggles of those years; we'd listened to each other as we talked about disappointments and dreams for what's next. And we talked. And talked. The nine inning game played on and we cheered every good play, all the while listening with our hearts for how the other was doing.
And we were both OK. After all these years, and all that we'd lived in and through - we were both OK.
Harry Chapin sang a great song, I Let Time Go Lightly. A line from that song - "Old friends, they mean much more to me than my new friends. For they can see where you are, and they know where you've been..."
I couldn't help humming that song on my drive back from Macon to Atlanta yesterday. Joan and were "old friends" and we were good friends, dear friends, loving friends. We picked up right where we left off those long years ago at ISU. So much had changed for each of us - and nothing had. We looked at one another and saw teenagers. We listened for one another and we heard stories of life - birth and death, holding on and letting go.
Two old friends - catching up, watching a ballgame. If Steve had pitched the Braves to a victory, it would have been perfect. But as it was ~ it was good, so very good.
As I move through this Lenten season I am trying to listen out for my ancestors. I’m listening and watching for messengers.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday Atlanta, it’s so easy for me to lose my way. Our city is surrounded by I-285, “the perimeter” as it is called by the locals. And the truth is, more often than not the perimeter symbolizes the hurry and the scurry for so many of us in our work-a-day worlds. It’s as though we’re on a merry-go-round that we can’t seem to get off. Round and round we go and where we stop…
And so in these Lenten days, I am trying to be mindful and intentional about making my way to and from places with purpose, with focus, with story. For this season that journeys with us from winter into spring, I am trying to create in me a clean heart that lives from the inside-out.
As I listen for my ancestors, time and again I am brought balance and meaning. Time and again I am brought home again. Lent can symbolize a wandering time, a time when we journey through the wilderness. In these days we can think about what we carry as we make our way through; we can think about what has become burdens for us. During the Lenten season, we can consider and re-consider what changes we would like to make to free up our bodies and our spirits.
That’s where ancestors come in for me. Throughout my life, I have been blessed with companions along the way who have served as guides, teachers, friends. Through our past times together I have witnessed lovingkindness and generosity. They have shown ways to sing new songs in foreign lands. They have done justice, loved kindness and walked humbly. And in these wilderness days, I am watching and listening for them.
So many of these messengers are now in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. I miss them deeply. I miss walking and talking with them. I miss the way he played piano, or she painted on canvas, or they laughed with their eyes. I miss their lessons of faith and hope and love.
But their living gift to me is that when I am mindful of the messages they brought, I am able to pay attention and to listen for the something similar in others. It’s as though, because they have begun those songs of justice and mercy, I can recognize the song when I hear it sung in new ways around me. And in this Lenten season this year, I am yearning to hear another verse of those old faithful songs.
We’re not alone as we make our way. Companions share the journey. Step-by-step, story-by-story we are reminded that our Creator is always, always in the midst of it all. In the silence and in the singing, God is with us inviting to listen and to watch; inviting us to be surprised by what is and what is yet to be.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.